NFL: One Day ALL Players Will Be Free

This week Los Angeles Chargers 5th year running back Melvin Gordon has informed the organization his intentions of holding out of training camp until he receives a new contract. Gordon is justifiably unhappy considering he finished 10th and 3rd in the entire NFL in rushing (2016 & 2017 respectively) along with running for 3,628 yards and 28 touchdowns since his 2015 rookie season. The Chargers selected Gordon with the 15th pick in the 1st round of the 2015 NFL Draft. This, coupled with his high performance on the field, put him in position to “secure the bag”. However, instead of the Chargers offering a new deal, elected to exercise their 5th-year team option from Gordon’s rookie contract (4-year $10.7M, $2.67M annually). Thus securing Gordon’s services for another year. Why is that important?

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Since the Chargers decided to pick up the 5th year option on his rookie contract, Gordon is only scheduled to be paid just $5.6M this year. As opposed to, Los Angeles Ram’s running back Todd Gurley. He was offered a contract extension by his organization at this same juncture. Gurley was rewarded with a 4-year $60M ($45M guaranteed and a $20M signing bonus) contract. Gordon and Gurley are amongst the best RB’s in the NFL, plus were drafted in the exact same year (2015).

Why did the Rams not hesitate to pay Gurley but the Chargers are seemingly reluctant to pay Gordon? Truly only a small few know for certain and Gordon surely is not one of them. Thus Gordon is making the choice to holdout. I recall back in 2004, sitting in an SUV in Manhattan, NY, discussing Sean “P Diddy” Comb’s performance in the Broadway play “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry.

Additionally, deliberating about life as an NFL player. “Burke, NFL yards are hard to come by”. Those words were emphatically told to me by a former teammate of mine at Boston College, running back William Green. Green was the first RB taken in the 2002 NFL draft (16th pick) selected by the Cleveland Browns. Myself? I was fortunate to sign a free agent contract with the Atlanta Falcons as a wide receiver. What is understood amongst NFL players, all running backs only have a certain number of carries in them. With that in mind, if the players know; so does the coaches, general managers, and owners who make the final financial decisions. I ask the fans and in general, the same question entrepreneur /music artist Meek Mill cross-examined on his latest album aptly titled “Championships”, “What’s Free”?

Meek Mill in the song featuring Luc Belair Luxe champagne investor/music artist Rick Ross and newly billionaires Sean “Jay-Z” Carter, proclaims “Free is when nobody else could tell us what to be. Free is when TV ain’t controlling what we see”. Owners and general managers routinely use the media to taint the reputations of any player who decides to holdout in the name for more monies than the team is willing to fork over at the moment. In exchange, the fans become allies of the organization and momentarily oppositions of the player holding out. We are witnessing the beginning stages of this tactic with Gordon’s situation in Los Angeles.

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However, there are deeper waters down in Dallas Texas with their star running back Ezekiel Elliott properly positioned for a contract extension and has expressed his willingness to sit out training camp if he does not receive a new contract. Although he has not formally informed the Cowboy’s organization he will not attend.

Elliott is entering his 4th year in the NFL and has put up staggering statistics. Elliott has led the entire NFL in rushing yards 2 out of the last 3 season (1,631 yards in 2015 and 1, 434 yards in 2018). Those numbers are impressive on the field. However, the numbers that currently supersede, in the eyes of the media, are the number of off the field instances Elliott has gotten himself into. Elliott’s off the field drama is well documented. Be that as it may, should not deter him for receiving what he earned on the field, right? NFL Owners, GM’s, and head coaches dream about one-day drafting players like Gordon and Elliott, right? So why is it, after these dynamic players prove their worth on the football field, they still have more performing to do in order to receive the monies they earned?

Former minority NBA owner (Brooklyn Nets) and music royalty Jay-Z. Famously professed on the song “I Got the Keys”, off of DJ Khaled’s 2016 “Major Key” album, “People always asking me the key. Til you own your own, you can’t be free. Til you are on your own, you can’t be me. How are we still slaves in 2016? Key to life, keep a bag coming”. Conceptually and culturally, there appear to be two completely antithetical perceptions of player relations in the NBA versus the NFL. First off, just strictly from a marketing standpoint, the NBA slogan is “The NBA is FANtastic”. As opposed to the NFL players themselves have frequently referred to their league as the “No Fun League”.

Secondly, the NBA’s business model has structured itself to unapologetically pay their most distinguished players top dollars. Furthermore, they implemented a “supermax” contract, designed with the intentions to ensure their elite superstar players in the league receive further financial compensation. On the other hand, the NFL top players, such as All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell (New York Jets) unequivocally one of the top 10 NFL players of any position, was forced to sit out an entire season.

This was due to a crippling by law in the NFL CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement). One that allows a team to draft a running back, sign him to a 4-year rookie deal, then place multiple franchise tags on him. Which heavily restricts the player’s financial security. Plus it also increases, at a dangerous rate, health concerns. With the organization knowing by the time the player is able to hit the free agency market (year 7), he will only have minimal carries left to contribute and even worst only received minimal compensation.

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Without question, it is a business! Owners and players will always have competing interests. However, it seems like the NBA is committed to creating a perceptual partnership with their top-notch players. Thus allowing them to achieve generational wealth. On the contrary, the NFL according to their players, has the feel of owners who are more concerned about limiting as much monies as possible from past generations. NFL players are playing and risking their lives and livelihoods to create a legacy for their own families. While owners in the NFL according to players are honoring legacies of the past.

Lastly, in the end, I do believe Elliott and Gordon will get compensated. My vision is one day NFL player will not have to hold out after they showed outperforming on the gridiron. As soulful singer Donny Hathaway said on his classic hit “Someday We’ll All Be Free”. NFL take a listen!

How do you feel about the NFL contract structure? Leave a comment below.

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Follow Jamal on Twitter @JamalBurke9.

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